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Paint can lead to some beautiful artwork and a more beautiful home. Yet paint can also wreak havoc on clothes, potentially ruining them. While you might have a specific set of painting clothes set aside for those long days with the brush and roller (which we highly recommend having), there are also those times where paint might get on clothes you didn't intend to get dirty. For those instances, we are here for you. Whatever type of fabric and paint you are dealing with, the following guide and walkthrough will help you get paint stains out of your favorite clothes with no traces left behind.
What Type of Paint Is It?
Not all paints are alike. For example, some spilled watercolors will be a very different job than paint meant to treat industrial metal. Oil-based paints will often require different types of treatment, and picking the wrong method when working with paint can lead to disastrous consequences. Latex paint and acrylic paint have their own removal methods as well. In addition to preventing you from removing the stain, using the wrong treatment method could cause a dangerous chemical reaction. Be sure to double-check the type of paint used when planning to remove it.
How Wet Is the Paint?
The wetness of the paint also plays a big role in determining the steps you will need to take to remove it. First off, if the paint is still wet, try to remove as much as possible in the beginning by using a damp cloth or a paper towel. Try to dab instead of rubbing it in, and use caution on more delicate fabrics. If you were using thick paint and got a glob of it on your clothes, try shaking it off before dabbing at it. The more you can remove without rubbing it in, the better.
Dried paints can be a little trickier. You may wish to use a brush or similar to scrub out as much of the paint as possible (taking care not to damage the clothing, of course). With delicates, this might not be an option, though tougher fabrics can probably handle the friction. If you need to remove dried paint from a delicate or valuable item of clothing, we recommend enlisting the help of a professional cleaner. Whether the garment holds monetary or sentimental value, trying to clean it yourself may not be worth the risk.
What Type of Garment Is It?
If the garment is color-safe, then things will be easier. If you can trust that your clothes will survive a trip through the washing machine with regular laundry detergent, that might make the final steps simpler for you. Conversely, clothes that won't go through the wash might require a bit more effort and care — or at least a bit more patience.
If you have a delicate fabric, spot testing your method might be a good idea, preferably in an area no one will see. You might also want to do this on valuable items, as stains and paint problems vary depending on the type of paint and the intensity of the problem. And, as we mentioned before, it’s never a bad idea to visit a dry cleaner or another cleaning professional for advice when dealing with delicate and valuable clothes.
Again, with most of the methods below, we'll describe some general caveats and conditions for use.
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4 Methods for Removing Paint
Before just going ahead and picking one, we strongly advise that you go over each method to see which will be the best option. Be very careful when deciding what products to use as paint removers. You don’t want to cause a bigger problem by removing the stain with something that will also destroy the garment.
1. Removing Paint Using Detergent
Using detergents (this might require either dish or laundry detergents) can be excellent when dealing with latex paints. These products may work well when trying to remove acrylic craft paint and watercolor paint, too.
- Try to remove as much wet paint as possible. Make sure to dab using paper towels or clean cloths to prevent further spread of the stain and then use a knife or spoon to scrape away as much wet paint as possible. Rinse with warm water and blot dry.
- Check the care label to see if the garment is color-safe. If it is, use dishwashing detergent. If it is not, then use an appropriate laundry detergent. Earth Breeze laundry sheets can be used for spot treating as well by ripping a corner off and gently rubbing it into the stain with some water.
- Put the detergent or dish soap directly on the stain. Do not apply too much at first, but enough to create a lather.
- Use a cloth, clean sponge or the lightest of brushes to create a lather and hand wash the area. A soft old toothbrush works, too. Remember to adjust the paper towels or cloths from step one as needed.
- After cleaning off as much of the paint as you can, wash the piece of clothing as usual.
- If the stain persists, repeat the above steps as needed. It may require some continual effort, but the stain should eventually go away.
2. Removing Paint Using Baking Soda
Baking soda has limited uses in removing paint, but it can be the perfect solution in the right circumstances. For example, baking soda can remove paint stains from denim, especially if you act fast. Also, keep in mind that baking soda is a good choice for removing paint stains from carpeting as well.
- Apply baking soda and water to the stained area, or create a baking soda and water solution in a bowl and place the item of clothing (or the stained portion) in it.
- Wait for the solution to settle. You might want to do other things while this is occurring. You can't rush it.
- Remove the item and rinse under warm water or launder in your washing machine as usual. Note that this method might not be effective enough, and you may need to try something else afterward.
3. Using Paint Thinner or Turpentine
In general, paint thinner or turpentine is best used when dealing with oil-based or acrylic paints. It will not be so effective on water-based paint. Before applying one of these harsh chemicals to an obvious area of your clothing, test it in an inconspicuous spot.
- Remove any wet paint using a paper towel, dull knife, a spoon or whatever you think might work best.
- Turn the garment inside out and blot the area. Perhaps use paper towels or a clean rag to help with this.
- Pour the removal chemical into a disposable container (an extra tub or small bucket might work). Always use caution when working with strong chemicals like paint thinner.
- Use a rag or cotton balls to soak up the chemical and then blot out the stain using it. For the most extreme cases, pour a tiny bit onto the spot and scrub away gently at the stain to remove the paint.
- Now, try to blot away the removal chemical using fresh paper towels or rags. Try to get rid of as much as possible so that the chemicals do not damage your clothes or the surrounding area.
- Apply some appropriate laundry detergent to the spot and rub it in gently.
- Immediately wash the item of clothing as usual. It should be free of any signs of paint and solvent by this point.
Note: Both of these chemicals, or for the most part anything used to remove oil-based paints, can be toxic. Try to do this outdoors or with the windows open where possible. Try to keep the air moving. We also strongly recommend you use protective gloves for every part of this process.
4. Using a Blunt Knife and Wet Cloth
This method is for the patient when dealing with items with a tough surface and paints that dry on in their own layer. If you have something like a stiff leather jacket, denim or something similar, this might be the option for you. This is especially the case if you worry about the effects of chemicals and solutions on your item. You might have seen these items used already in several fixes, though not alone.
- Prepare a dull knife to scrape away as much paint as possible. You can also use a spoon or the edge of a ruler.
- Apply a damp cloth or paper towel to the area to blot away as much paint as possible.
- Repeat, taking care not to spread the stain.
- Depending on the fabric and the depth of the stain, this might require a lot of work. In addition, it may not be viable if the stain is already set. In these cases, we recommend one of the other methods.
Sometimes Nothing Will Work Perfectly
With particularly sensitive clothes or the absolute worst of cases with paint, there is the matter of knowing when you might have to quit or get a professional to try (they have access to tools you probably don't). Latex paint, spray paint and oil-based paint can be especially difficult to remove, and there is no shame in knowing when to admit defeat. Getting rid of paint is a time-consuming process, and your time can be just as valuable as your clothes. Prepping a wash and letting clothes soak is one thing, but if you need to spend hours trying to fix the mess, sometimes you might want to let the mess win. A cheap t-shirt is usually not worth your whole day. You can always set the damaged garment aside to wear when working on future projects.
There might also be times where you cannot do much to fix the issue as it's been too long. The paint might have effectively bonded with the clothing, or cleaning methods could ruin the clothing anyhow. Only you know your limits, but we do suggest using your judgment in these circumstances.
Here are a few other things you should take note of when removing paint from your clothes:
- Do everything in your power to keep the paint from spreading to other clothes or the rest of the fabric. A larger stain or spot is a more challenging spot to deal with, and you certainly don’t want to risk ruining another garment by washing paint-stained clothing with the rest of your laundry.
- Act as quickly as possible, and do not delay trying to get the stain out if you notice it. In general, the longer the paint stays there, the tougher it will be to get out. Apply your chosen stain remover and launder the stained garment as quickly as possible to ensure the best results.
- If you are running your clothes through the wash at any point, wash the clothes individually, or at least keep the clothes with paint separate from those which do not have paint on them. While it is unlikely the paint will stain other clothes in small amounts, it's still best to be safe.
- If you are leaving clothes to soak at any point, be patient and let them soak for the described time.
- Again, we would like to stress being safe if you work with something like turpentine or paint thinner. These chemicals are toxic, even in small amounts.
- Additionally, if you are working with clothing that contains acetate or triacetate, these chemicals could potentially melt the fabric. We would not recommend their use in this instance.
- Be careful about disposing of or draining the water, especially if a lot of paint is involved. Certain types of paint might not be good for your pipes and certainly cannot be good for the environment. Unless you are working with explicitly eco-friendly paint, be very careful about the disposal of your water. Dispose of the water you use to remove paint from your clothes the same way you deal with the water you use when removing excess paint from your brushes or rollers.
Paint stains on clothing can be a real annoyance, but we hope these tips will help if you find yourself with a splash or stain. Be sure to review everything carefully and double-check both the paint and the garment involved. We wish you the best of luck, and may you return to painting (if you need to) quickly!